The Creative LIAisons virtual speaker series started on 31st July, 2023 with Richard Levy, Chief Creative Officer, and Samantha Dolin, Executive Creative Director of Klick Health, answering perennial questions about work in the industry and how to navigate briefs and clients.
The session began with both Levy and Dolin picking random questions that they had placed in a hat before moving on to questions from the virtual audience. Among the questions were:
It’s the 11th hour, and the brief hasn’t been cracked or someone comes in to blow up the work. What would you do?
Rich: When the work isn’t there, go way back to the brief. There will be something in the brief that resonates. Always go back to the brief and ask why. I would take parts of it. Or attack all of it.
You should also go back to the cutting floor. Maybe there is a nugget of something buried in there. While there is no specific number of ideas, the 11th hour stops you from bringing in too many ideas. Personally, I don’t bring in more than four or five, because it makes it difficult to focus the conversation after that.
Samantha: Yes, access what you have on the cutting floor. And ask what do I need to do to cross the finish line.
What are the ingredients of an exceptional brief?
Rich: When I see it, it makes me feel something deeply and incites me to do something. You think to yourself: this can’t possibly be true. Thankfully, someone has created something that could end that problem.
Samantha: Yes, and there are two other really important ingredients - clarity and brevity. Plus, it has an intersectionality with a major cultural moment. There’s something that’s extra special that emerges from that.
What happens when there’s nothing exceptional about the brief? What do you do?
Rich: That’s when you doubly focus on the brief. There is something in there. That’s why the client created the product. But they know it so well and so intimately that they can’t see that they are talking to themselves. Find that nugget and show them the path of how to get from here to there.
In your early years, did you get opportunities from people you knew? Or did you have to hustle and make connections which helped you go further?
Samantha: For me, it was a combination of both. You’ll find someone in your career who really inspires you, or who will give you that extra time. You say, "can I grab 30 minutes? I just want to run something past you. I want your opinion."
Take hold of that. That is a gift. I’ve had a number of those. After decades, I’m still in contact with them.
I love the term “hustle” as I always ask what is something new that’s going on that I don’t know about. Let me go check that out; let me go ask somebody if they will be my informal mentor in that area. When I was coming up in the industry, digital was really blowing up back then. Trying to make an idea come to life digitally was a big learning curve for an art director. I found a Tech lead and had coffee with him once a month. I came prepared with a ton of questions.
One of the things I say to my younger creatives is: Chase the opportunities. Chase the places where it will push you to grow and expand.
Rich: At the very beginning of my career, I had several mentors who were just invaluable. They taught me so much about the craft of copywriting, so much about the craft of ideation. I had a Creative Director who pounded into my head that I had an execution and not an idea. Every time I showed him work, he’d ask, ‘What’s the idea? What insight are you bringing?’
Those early mentors set the foundation and from there I was on the trajectory. And I just followed certain categories. I started working on beers and then moved on to soft drinks.
You get a really tough brief. How do you get started to crack it and find places of inspiration?
Rich: I dig into the research. I will read everything; I will look at everything; I will watch as many videos as I can. I dig deep and somehow my brain synthesizes the information. But when it doesn’t, I have this Post-it note exercise. I will think about the product and then write one word or one phrase on a Post-it note. I will have lots of Post-it notes on the wall. I won’t look at the wall. And then I will pull four Post-it notes from the wall, put them together and look at the four things I wrote. From there, I’ll write a story that connects those four. Finally, I give it a title. Usually, the title becomes a bucket of work to explore.
Samantha: My first thing is to free associate. I write down the first thing that comes to my mind – first impressions, first thoughts, even if it’s out of whack. Then similar to Rich, I start researching. If it’s a really tough brief, I’ll try to find an insight around the situation, something I can sink my teeth into and try to ideate off that. I try to find the intersection or a cultural moment that is really powerful.
What do you think is the difference between health/pharma advertising and “normal” advertising?
Rich: The process of creating work is exactly the same. The big difference between healthcare and non-healthcare advertising is that in non-healthcare advertising you are always looking for a reason for people to pay attention. In healthcare advertising, it’s there already. Someone is going to die or have a terrible quality of life. You don’t have to dramatize anything as the drama is already there. All you need to do is make people aware, make people take action by telling them you have an answer to the problem they have. In healthcare advertising, making people aware is not enough. You have to provoke them to take action.
Samantha: Our modus operandi is not to sell products. It’s to help people, change their lives and to get important information to people who need it the most. We need to empathize with someone on their health and wellness journey. That’s the most important thing.
Do you have any presentation tips to increase the chances of clients buying the idea?
Samantha: It’s not a one-size-fits-all when it comes to selling and packaging the idea to the client. A lot of times we go in with a key visual and a core idea description or a rough script/storyboard, but the question should be how to get into the minds of your client so they connect with the vision that you see. It’s going to be different for different projects, so think about how you package it to give a flavor of where it will go.
Rich: I take people behind the curtain - where I was when the inspiration hit, what I was reading, what data or information that sparked the idea. I’ll take them along the path of the creation of the idea and how it answers their problem. When I’m “not selling” but storytelling, it’s usually when I’m the most effective and clients are the most receptive.
When you were younger, how did you know when it was time to leave an agency to find a new position?
Rich: I start to get itchy and look for new opportunities when I’ve stopped learning.
The other thing, the big one for me, is when I’m not having fun. If you’re not having fun at work, you’re probably in the wrong place.
Samantha: If you are in a place where you’re on a team and you are supported, you ask yourself: have I explored all the opportunities available, to see if there’s work that challenges me?
Barbara Levy, President of LIA, rounded off the session by adding: “The Creative LIAisons team at LIA has put a lot of work into curating the talks and organizing this program. We want to give participants, in both the virtual sessions and the onsite program, the opportunity that no other awards festival offers. Participants should make the most of it, to learn and ask questions. It is indeed a rare privilege to get access to people like Rich and Sam. A big thanks to both of them for taking time off to answer all these pertinent questions.”